BILOXI - Former New York Mets catcher Barry Lyons spoke about life in baseball and his redemption Friday before a standing room only crowd Friday at the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art.
Lyons considers one of his greatest accomplishments was working to bring minor league baseball back to the Coast, when the Huntsville Stars relocated to Biloxi and became the Shuckers.
"Double A baseball is the greatest level of minor league baseball," Lyons said.
Lyons earned All-American honors at Delta State and was a 15th round pick of the New York Mets in 1981. He advanced rapidly through the Mets organization, hitting .280 (1982), .294 (1983), and .316 with 12 homers and 87 RBIs, winning the Carolina League MVP in 1984. With light-hitting Mike Fitzgerald as the Mets primary catcher, Lyons' MLB future looked good.
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However, that future dimmed during the Christmas season in late 1984. Lyons and a friend were watching television in Pascagoula when free agent Gary Carter, a six-time all-star with the Expos who had hit .294 with 27 homers and 106 RBIs for Montreal in 1984, signed with the Mets. Carter is a Hall of Famer.
Fitzgerald went to the Expos and Lyons, moving to the AA Jackson Mets in 1985, found his way blocked at the top. He batted .307 and drove in 108 runs at Jackson and .295 with AAA Tidewater to earn a promotion to the Mets in 1986.
"It was frustrating," Lyons said. "I felt that I was in the peak of my career. I knew I was as good or better than most of the frontline catchers in Major League Baseball at the time. But I was behind a great catcher."
With players like Doc Gooden, Keith Hernandez, and Daryl Strawberry, the 1986 Mets were loaded.
"We had a great team," Lyons said. "We had some great ballplayers. I believe that was the best era of New York Mets baseball. Part of me wanted to be traded and have a chance to play everyday. But we had the best team in baseball over a five year period and I wanted to be part of that."
While the Mets were having success, Lyons, found playing time restricted behind Carter, was also struggled with injuries. In 1986, Lyons was hit by a pitch that broke his forearm. He spent most of the year in Tidewater. In 1989, he fractured his toe.
However, in 1990, Carter left New York for San Francisco and Lyons won the starting job for the Mets. However, bulging disks in his back saw Lyons struggle at the plate and throwing out runners.
"The spotlight wasn't too friendly," Lyons said. "I played not to make a mistake, hoping I would get better, hoping I would get a hit."
After being released in 1990 by the Mets, he was picked up late by the Dodgers.
However, in 1991, the Dodgers also signed Carter. Lyons and Carter made the opening day roster as backups. The Dodgers needed to make room for Orel Hershiser, coming off the disabled list, resulted in Lyon's release. For the next three years, Lyons bounced around AAA baseball, playing for the Houston, St. Louis, and Cincinnati organizations.
"The first time I was released (from the Mets) was a hurt you can't describe," Lyons said. "But, after you've been released five or six times, you look for the next open door."
In 1995, Lyons started his fourth year in AAA with the Nashville Sounds. After hitting eight homers through 71 games, he got called up for his final Major League season, with the White Sox. He hit five homers in 27 games.
During Hurricane Katrina, Lyons' drinking intensified.
"Those who saw me, but didn't know me, didn't have a clue," he said. "But those who knew me saw that. Alcohol ruined my life for a season."
The turning point was waking up around Christmas in 2011, alone at home, with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a bag of marijuana. He checked into Home of Grace in Vancleave and went through their program. After hearing Rev. Andy Johnson preach on the Prodigal Son at Home of Grace, Lyons became a believer. Since then, Lyons' life has been one of redemption.
"I believe that God has a purpose for everybody," he said.